After 400 asbestos-related deaths in the last decade alone and 2,000 additional diagnosed cases of asbestos-related illnesses in Libby, Montana, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finally released its 328-page health assessment report on the city this Monday. The report indicates that the cleanup efforts in Libby have significantly helped to reduce the chance of more residents becoming ill.
From 1963 to 1990, W.C. Grace, a vermiculite asbestos processing plant that was located in Libby, released an exorbitant amount of asbestos into the air. Much of the asbestos still remains in Libby today, affecting over 2,000 homes. Consequently, a $500 million project was created to help clean up the city, and the results were listed in EPA’s health assessment report. Concentrations of asbestos in the air are now reduced by 10,000 times when compared to the air concentration when the W.C. Grace mine was active.
In addition to the W.C. Grace mine, asbestos is naturally-occurring in Libby, making it almost impossible to reduce its effects, if not for the cleanup effort of the EPA. The report is scheduled to be discussed in three separate town meetings in Libby this week.
“EPA’s scientific evaluation shows that our cleanup approach is working and we are reducing health risks for residents in Libby,” said EPA regional administrator, Shaun McGrath. “We look forward to working with the community to use this important science in identifying the final set of cleanup actions,” he continued.
Largest Superfund Site
In 2002, Libby was declared a “superfund” site, meaning an abandoned site in which dangerous wastes are located that require immediate and ongoing cleanup efforts. The hazards of Libby were so severe that it became the largest superfund site in the United States, and the only city with an emergency disaster arising in part due to environmental reasons.
The report shows results of the cleanup effort over the past 15 years, including who is most at risk for asbestos exposure. For instance, people who go bike riding or hiking near the Libby mine is more likely to develop an asbestos-related disease when compared to others who may be doing the same activities in other parts of the world. However, the cleanup has reduced these chances significantly, and EPA states that the town is now safer to both live in and visit.
“The cleanup efforts have been effective and Libby is a good place to live and visit,” said Senior Toxicologist, Dr. Debbie Reynolds.
More Cleanup Efforts May Surface
Numerous properties remained untouched after their owners decided against participating in the cleanup. In fact, at least 800 properties were not cleaned up, as the owners wanted verification of the dangers from health assessment officials first or just simply wanted nothing to do the with EPA’s project. Officials are hoping, however, that these owners will change their mind now that the health assessment has been released.
Yet, getting the health assessment released in time has been a problem. Just one month earlier, Montana’s Governor, Steve Bullock, made a complaint to the EPA because the report’s release had been delayed. Now that the report is finally here, more government officials are hopeful that Libby residents will feel more safe about their environment.
“I hope this (report) helps lifts the clouds that have hung over Libby,” said Libby Mayor, Doug Roll.
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